No one said this would be easy. And so it proved. Chelsea hosted a rampaging Manchester City at The Bridge and were, worryingly, second-best to the Citizens for large parts of the evening. Big performances from Rudiger, Christensen and Courtois ensured the winning margin was only one goal but it was the midfield and attack that let the rest of the team down.
Here are some of the talking points from a bad day at the office.
#1 Respecting The Opposition
Coming into this game, Manchester City had scored 21 goals in the league in just six games, so it was understandable that Conte wanted extra protection for his defence and went with a 3-5-2. This led to Azpilicueta playing as a right wingback, with Christensen, Cahill and Rudiger in the centre. Due to the reshuffle, Chelsea missed the attacking threat of Moses down the right flank and hindsight suggests it would have been better to have Zappacosta playing instead of disturbing a settled backline. City have tremendous amounts of talent on the wings in Sterling and Sane, and a safety-first approach seemed to be a wise choice after the midweek exertions in Madrid.
#2 Missed A Trick
Morata had a couple of chances to score early on, although none were what you’d call clear-cut. He seemed to be feeling his hamstring after just 35 minutes and had to be taken off as a precaution. Up until then, he and Hazard had been combining well and the whole team seemed to have a balance. Once Morata went off, the team’s attack crumbled in a heap, mainly because Conte subbed the wrong guy on. Morata off and Batshuayi on seemed to the logical choice at this point. However…
#3 Will He or Won’t He
Willian has divided opinions amongst fans like no other player has since Mikel left these shores. The Brazilian is a 7/10 player on most days and reaches a nice 8/10 when he’s having a good one. Against City, he was probably the most wasteful player on the pitch and was playing a different game to the rest of the team. He kept giving away the ball by misplacing straightforward passes, much to the frustration of the supporters. When he did keep the ball, he would run into blind alleys or stop the attack dead in its tracks.
#4 Hazard Waning
Eden Hazard was in scintillating form against Atletico in midweek and comparisons with Ronaldo and Messi soon followed. This game showed he needs to be do so much more to be seriously considered in that bracket. After a bright start, he faded away after Morata came off, seemingly unable to adjust his game to the changed circumstances. Truly elite players drive others on. They lead by example even in unfavourable conditions. Here, Hazard lost his mojo as soon as his partner-in-crime was removed. It also didn’t help that Chelsea tried the oft-tried and seldom successful false nine with Hazard at the top.
#5 Plan B
Michy Batshuayi scored the last-minute winner against Atletico and would have been shattered to see Willian replacing the injured Morata. Despite his lack of minutes, Michy has a knack of popping up with important goals. Even still, he doesn’t appear to be fully trusted by Conte despite a year of training with his methods. When he did get on the pitch, he did nothing of note. Is it a confidence issue or something else? We might never know. But with Costa gone and Morata injured, the goal-scoring burden falls squarely on Batshuayi and he needs to start pulling his weight in real life too.
Chelsea might not have wanted to head into the international break on the back of a defeat but it gives them a chance to regroup. Still, we’re only 6 points behind the leaders and with 31 more games to play. Keep calm and carry on.